India to resume international flights through ‘air bubbles’ from Friday

New Delhi, Jul 16 (efe-epa).- India is set to start operating international flights through “air bubbles” with different countries after months of closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the country’s Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri announced on Thursday.

The plan to partially resume international flights from Friday, at a time when the country is about to cross the grim milestone of one million coronavirus cases, will be carried out by authorizing a limited number of flights to countries such as France and the United States.

“Till international civil aviation can reclaim its pre-COVID numbers, I think (the) answer will lie through bilateral air bubbles, which will carry a possible number of people but under defined conditions as countries are still imposing entry restrictions,” Puri said in a press conference.

Air bubbles are bilateral agreements between countries that agree to allow each other’s flights under specific terms and conditions.

“We are at a very advanced stage of negotiations with at least three countries,” the minister said, adding that a formal agreement had already been signed with one of them.

US carrier United Airlines is set to operate 18 flights between the two countries between July 17-31, while Air France would operate 28 flights to Paris from the Indian cities of Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore between July 18 – Aug. 1.

India is also in talks for similar arrangements with the United Kingdom, Germany and the United Arab Emirates.

The minister said that bilateral bubbles will allow the transfer of as many people as possible under “defined” restrictions.

Puri, who has been optimistic about the complete reopening of the Indian airspace at the earliest possible date, said that this depended on the regulations and restrictions in different cities across the world about resuming flight operations.

“All these arrangements depend, in the ultimate analysis, on the behavior of the virus, (…) if the virus was suddenly to atrophy or dissipate, we would just open it up to normal traffic,” he said.

Indian civil aviation is going through a difficult phase due to being affected by the virus, the minister said, insisting that authorities are trying to resume aviation acitivities as much as possible despite the limitations.

He added that even in domestic operations, the aviation sector was operating barely at 33 percent of its capacity despite resuming operations as early as May 25, as cities had imposed additional restrictions or lockdown measures recently.

As per the minister’s estimates, the country could recover around 60 percent of its domestic operations by the month of November.

India, which is currently under the second phase of easing its complete nationwide lockdown that began on Mar. 25, had reported a total of 968,876 Covid-19 patients and 24,915 deaths by Thursday, with 32,695 cases being registered within the last 24 hours. EFE-EPA


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